Hifi Pig reviewer Ian Ringstead’s thoughts and highlights from The Bristol Hifi Show. 

Bristol has become an annual date in our calendar for my wife Heather and I, as not only is it a great show but it gives us a weekend break in a lovely city and a chance to catch up with colleagues and friends old and new. This is a summary of our personal highlights. Time was limited and I like to talk a lot to people old and young. (I used to be very shy when I was young but have made up for it since !!)

We didn’t get to Bristol until Saturday afternoon due to a friend’s wedding the day before and the challenge of traffic on the motorways coming down from Sheffield. Saturday was, therefore, a gradual break-in where we only did one floor with Sunday as the main day for serious listening and networking.

Bristol covers a wide range of products from budget to serious kit at the other extreme of the price spectrum. That’s good because everyone is catered for and can feel included. Although the main group of attendees from the public point of view were the older serious audiophiles, there were still families and younger folk soaking up the vibe and enjoying the atmosphere.

Starting on the fourth floor we called in on Ophidian Audio to see Gareth James and his new range of P series speakers. I know Gareth’s products well and have reviewed several of them before. He has made improvements to the original P series with tweaks and new drive units where he felt that were needed. Like all manufacturers and designers, he is constantly striving for improved performance and value for money. The room was popular and sounded good with a Marantz Ruby series integrated amp and cd player, a good choice as I like Marantz a lot, being a fan of Ken Ishiwata’s design input and end results, which always work well.

A lot of the rooms were busy, so I concentrated on the Henley rooms and listened to the Klipsch range of speakers which Henley took on last year and are doing very well with. Klipsch is an old American speaker company started in a tin shed in Arkansas in 1946 by Paul Wilbur Klipsch. They have legendary status with models such as the Heresy and La Scala speakers sold all over the world. I heard several models and they all performed well. I love the retro styling harking back to the 50’s and 60’s of some of the models with the oatmeal grilles and wooden finishes, Also the copper coloured drive units and controls made of copper on models such as The One powered audio speaker.

One of Henley’s rooms was doing timed demonstrations of the differences between the cheaper Ortofon moving magnet cartridges and the more expensive moving coils. It was highly enlightening for the people there in the room and Kieran did a great job of talking us through the various models explaining their sound characteristics and pros and cons. The differences to my ear were obvious and when the change to the Quintet Black S (£679) with nude shibata stylus and sapphire cantilever from the M2 Black was made it was immediately a lot better.  I use the older Quintet Black moving coil myself that has a boron cantilever and Kieran said the Black S was a favourite of his. The Black is a great mid-priced moving coil. The final cartridge that was demonstrated was the Cadenza Bronze at £1500 which although different to my ear didn’t suit my tastes in that system. This proves that personal taste and system matching is vital.

Totem Acoustic were concentrating on demoing their new model the Kin Play powered speaker at 120 watts and a built-in moving magnet phono stage to which a Rega turntable the P3 was hooked up to. The Kin Play is a powered/passive system with Bluetooth and Qualcomm aptx HD, optical, line level switchable to phono and 3.5 mm inputs. A subwoofer output and universal and micro port tuning. An innovative design aimed at the younger market I am sure or someone wanting a compact powered system with turntable capability for a study maybe. A system to watch, I think.

On the third floor Fyne Audio were making a very nice sound with their new model the F702. This was a relaxed uncluttered room with a beautiful large backdrop photo of Loch Fyne in Scotland near to where the company is based. I spent some time talking to the guys behind this newish company, some of who used to work with Tannoy. This very experienced group of men decided to make a new innovative range of loudspeakers here in the UK. I applaud British grit and determination in the face of adversity. Models in the varied ranges go from budget up to the new flagship F1-12 at £26000. Build quality and sound was excellent. I am sure we will hear a lot about this company in the future.

The Astin Trew/ Planalogue room was next and I spent time talking to them about the new range of electronics they have introduced the AT2-1100 pre -amp and AT2-5100 power amp. I remember when this company started up a few years ago and I am pleased they are doing well. As well as playing vinyl on the Planalogue turntable with a Hana moving coil cartridge which is excellent, I listened to the Teac reel to reel from the 1970’s which was superb. Who says old technology isn’t any good!!

Advanced MP3 Players are a new company to me but have been around since 2001. They were allowing the public to listen to their range of excellent DAP’s (digital audio players) and headphones from in-ear monitors to over ear designs. They had some lovely portable DAP machines from Cowon, iBasso and Dunu. A machine that particularly took my fancy was the beautiful Cowon Plenue L (PL) Hi Res DAP. The Plenue L boasts a hybrid metal alloy body reinforced with high-strength materials and heat treatment that is precision-machined via CNC. Its high-gloss finish, a visualization of the magnificent sound of brass instruments, is realized through experts in special micro-polishing (buffing) and anodizing to match the high sound quality with equally premium materials. The specification is state of the art and sounded as good as it looked. It retails for £1590, but even my wife liked it, so maybe one day.

Decent Audio distributes some rather nice brands such as Scansonic, Ayre Acoustics and DBL Design Build Limited of The Wand tone arm fame. Scansonic speakers are fabulous value for money and sound great to my ears with that ribbon tweeter (another feature I love) offering elegant and neat solutions for many homes where space is at a premium. The HD M-40 was being shown as it was a new model and is part of a range that fits in well to most homes being the cheaper cousin to the Raidho flagship arm of Dantax Radio in Denmark. Trickle down technology and ideas benefit the Scansonic side of the company like many other corporations do around the world.

Ayre Acoustics is an American company based in Boulder Colorado and were formed in 1993 by Charles Hansen. I have lusted over their products for many years and I nearly bought an amp and cd player a few years ago, until my wife made me see financial sense and saved my credit card from getting too hot! The 8 Series is a new range aimed at the budget conscious audiophile

The EX-8 integrated amplifier is a new introduction and provides a total solution for state-of-the-art music reproduction. Simply add any source (digital and/or analogue) plus a pair of loudspeakers or headphones and enjoy a musical experience that invigorates your soul. Built around Ayre’s exclusive innovations, the Ayre EX-8 includes fully-balanced, zero-feedback (real-time) circuitry throughout for natural musicality with 100-watt output. Being a modular design various digital options are available to add on to the standard analogue unit ranging from £5750 up to £7750.

Finally, I was very excited to see the DBL Wand turntable which will retail for about £4000 with 9.5 arm. A radical new approach in design which is a must listen when it becomes available later this year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t being demoed due to technical issues caused when it was shipped over from New Zealand. When sent out for review I would love to get my hands on it.

Atlas cables were along the corridor using Mark Levinson electronics which I sadly could recognise even though they were turned around to make cable swaps easy. Atlas do a wide range of quality cables, but they were concentrating on showing the difference between two digital USB cables the Element USB and the new Mavros Grun USB cable. The difference was obvious and doubters that digital cables only have to pass 0’s and 1’s and don’t make a difference as you upgrade should take heed. The same was true when the speaker and analogue cables were compared with and without Grun grounding. I was surprised what a difference it made and it was not a subtle change.  Atlas cables, especially the new Asimi Luxe range are like audio jewellery and sheathed in luxurious leather are very tactile and attractive, albeit at a high price. A bit like Louis Vuitton handbags.

The second floor had Harbeth Audio in two rooms and although I wanted to look and listen both rooms were busy all the time. Alan Shaw was doing a sterling job talking through his designs the ethos behind them. Hopefully I’ll get to listen at another show soon.

Auden Distribution/ Amphion were demoing the excellent Amphion Argon 3LS and 7LS speakers along with the Hegel H190 electronics. Scandinavian design that is stylish without being flashy.

Atacama Audio were demonstrating along with Norma Audio from Italy their new range of UK designed cables by Mark Sears the Spirit, Verve and Imperium power cables. I use some of Mark’s cables in my system and they are truly excellent. These should do well. The Norma Audio is beautifully made and presented with the usual Italian style and panache, aimed at the wealthier/serious enthusiast. Another company to watch out for. Italy not only gives us superb wine and food, luxurious cars and historic cities like Rome and Florence, but fabulous hifi as well from many companies with a passion for style as well as quality.

Tellurium Q’s new Ultra Black 11 speaker cables were in use with Russel K Red 150SE speakers and Melco digital products. I currently have the Ultra Black’s in for review so read my review in due course. The Russel K’s sounded very good along with the Melco electronics and TQ cables as they always do at the shows I have heard them at.

In the Conservatory, Wilson Benesch from my home city of Sheffield were showing off their new speakers the Precision series consisting of three models aimed at a lower price level to attract new buyers. CH Precision electronics which Wilson Benesch distribute were being used. CH Precision are serious high-end electronics from Switzerland, so build and quality are a given. I love their look and design and compliment Wilson Benesch’s speakers beautifully, but they are expensive. The room sounded good, but I have heard it sound better and hotel rooms/ areas are tricky to get right.

The ground floor had many manufacturers on show, but I was only able to see a few. The first was Harman Luxury Audio Group with Mark Levinson, JBL Synthesis, Lexicon, Revel and Arcam. Of particular interest was the new Mark Levinson 5000 series electronics and JBL L100 Classics and JBL K2 S9900’s. Mark Levinson are on my wish list if I win the lottery (haha) and always sound sublime. The JBL L100 were an unknown as it is a long time since I heard the originals and so I was cautious to make any immediate evaluations, the same was true of the K2 S9900’s. I would like to hear them in a more favourable environment to assess them properly.

The lower ground floor was home to among other brands Technics. I sold a lot of Technics in the 80’s and 90’s and I have a soft spot for them. It was a shock when Technics pulled out of hifi due to changing market conditions in the early noughties, but I am so pleased to see them back now with a vengeance producing quite a range of turntables and introducing a new direct drive model the SL1500C. The SL1500C has been designed to allow the more budget conscious and younger audience to own a quality direct drive which is a pared down SL1200/1210 without the frills of pitch and speed control. It comes with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge and a built-in mm phono stage so you can plug it into an auxiliary input. Technics hope to retail it for about £900 and I reckon it will sell by the bucket load.

Also, on demonstration was the new Ottava S SC- C50 smart Hifi speaker. The previous model the Ottava SC C70 which has a cd player as well was Technics bestselling lifestyle product ever, but their market research showed a shift in the demographic group of people wanting an all in one system, and many said they didn’t want a cd player as they had no cd’s. Younger people listen to music differently these days either streaming audio or downloading digital files. The S SC-C50 sounded very good for its size and has a lot of innovative design elements and features. With Technics’ Space Tune room calibration technology built-in, there are no restrictions on where the OTTAV S SC-C50 has to be placed in order to get the best sound – the user can choose exactly where they want the speaker to be.

Technics state that the Ottava S SC-C50’s elegant arc shape is finished in alluring aluminium, which enhances the performance thanks to its vibration-eliminating rigidity. Users will also appreciate the unit’s beautiful OLED display with touch-sensitive controls. A wide variety of music sources can be effortlessly played back thanks to the OTTAVA S SC-C50’s state-of-the-art wired and wireless connectivity while built-in Google Chromecast makes listening to streaming services a joy.

The last room I went into was IAG’s Wharfedale and Audiolab set up. Audiolab have recently introduced the budget 6000 series which Hifi Pig have reviewed very favourably consisting of the 6000A integrated amp and 6000CDT CD. A network player the 6000N will be introduced soon to complete the range. The speakers used to show the electronics off were the new Wharfedale Linton Heritage. The Wharfedale Linton represents one of the most iconic models in the long history of Wharfedale loudspeakers. I remember them first time around and along with the Dentons sold in large quantities. The new incarnation sounded upbeat and modern being open in character whereas the original was a warm, rich and natural sound that suited the 60’s and 70’s. It’ll be interesting to see how this new heritage series is greeted. Also, in the new range will be the Denton 80 and 85 reviving a classic series of yesteryear brought up to modern day standards and tastes. Well done Wharfedale.

So, there we have it, my impressions and highlights of Bristol 2019. Apologies to any companies and brands I didn’t manage to see or hear, but as stated earlier time was of the essence so I had to prioritise accordingly and what was practically achievable. Once again Bristol delivered a great show and Audio T and the manufacturers are to be applauded for their efforts.

Check out all Hifi Pig’s coverage of The Bristol Hifi Show with all relevant links in one place right here

Ian Ringstead

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